29 June 2007

Manasse-Nakamatsu: Two Jons, Zwei Begleitern mit Gleichheit

Jon Manasse
DSM: Brahms’s Clarinet Sonata in E-flat, Op. 120, No. 2, has a delicate and, in the woodwind-piano duet literature, unique ‘balance’ between the piano and the clarinet. What I mean is that the piano is not so much an ‘accompaniment’—in the way it is in some Concertante pieces that clearly have an accompaniment that’s subordinated to the solo instrument’s part—as it is an equal voice that has expressive ‘parity’ with the clarinet. This Sonata is much more in the dialogical mode of ‘chamber music’.

CMT: Clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu perform this Brahms Clarinet Sonata No. 2 regularly. And, you know, the German for accompanist is ‘Begleiter’ or companion. It is not ‘servant’. It is not ‘note-schlepper’. It’s ‘companion’—full-fledged ‘companion’, with more than a whiff of ‘duty’ in that. Think of Brahms—the Brahms of Hamburg, Detmold, Vienna: how did Begleitern/Gefährten accompanists comport themselves?

DSM: The pairing of Jon Manasse and Jon Nakamatsu is an especially felicitous one—in terms of their matched temperaments, mutual sensitivities, and mutual sense of duty, one to the other. Ahhh, let’s see here . . . Jon Manasse’s appearances include New York City performances at Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society events (Avery Fisher Hall), Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Hunter College, Columbia University, Rockefeller University. In a busy schedule of concretizing, he also presented the world premieres of James Cohn’s Concerto for Clarinet & String Orchestra at the international ClarinetFest 1997 and, in 2005, of Steven Gerber’s Clarinet Concerto with the National Philharmonic. Manasse debuted Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with Gerard Schwarz and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in a Barbican Centre performance in London in 2002.

CMT: Jon Manasse also has chamber music performances with the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society, the Amadeus Trio at Southern Oregon University, the Ying Quartet at Harvard University, plus the Manhattan String Quartet, the Borromeo String Quartet, the Amadeus Trio, Germany’s Trio Parnassus, the Orion String Quartet, and the Rossetti Shanghai Quartet.

DSM: Jon trained at Juilliard, where he studied with David Weber. Manasse was a top prize winner in the Thirty-Sixth International Competition for Clarinet in Munich and the youngest winner of the International Clarinet Society Competition. For twelve years he’s been on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music. And this Fall, Manasse joins the faculty of Juilliard.

CMT: You know, Brahms initially wrote Op. 120 for viola and piano. The viola part was then transposed for the clarinet, and it’s famously known now as the Clarinet Sonata—even though it’s still important in the viola literature, too. The two Brahms Clarinet Sonatas are anchors in the standard clarinet repertoire that’s required for clarinetists in music graduate programs. Examination and performance of the Second Sonata show that the “zero-order” technical aspects—such as fingerings and tongue articulation and phrasing and tone production in each of the registers—are not what make Op. 120 so challenging. Instead, the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas are a critical part of the repertoire because they contain sections that expose “first-” and “second-order” weaknesses of the clarinetist—such as breath support, and control of dynamics, and interpretive vision, and gestural fluency. As a consequence—or conversely—these same sections have a powerful ability to reveal the expressive and technical virtuosity of the clarinetist as well. The Second Sonata can really separate the wheat from the chaff! Here are some questions for you, and for Jon Manasse:

  • Do you move a lot when you’re performing?
  • Does this motion affect your performance?
  • Did your teachers encourage or discourage motions? What was their reasoning?
  • Is there a part of your body that you move more than any other, to achieve the expressive musical effects you intend?
  • What’s the proper role of gestural instruction in performance pedagogy?

DSM: Common gestures for clarinetists involve, say, vertical movement of the clarinet bell and of its barrel, and horizontal and sagittal movements of the barrel alone. And circular/elliptical movements of the bell and barrel. We should distinguish at least two categories of gestures. ‘Instrumental gestures’ are ones that play a direct role in the production of sound (e.g., moving the diaphragm to blow air into a wind instrument), while ‘ancillary gestures’ are not directly involved in the production of sound (e.g., raising the eyebrows; scowling; leaning the body forward or backward; raising the hands above the keyboard; elliptical movements of the clarinet bell; etc.).

CMT: Musicians tend to move expressively while they play. Watching a soloist, one sees a sequence of subtle gestures including body sways, eyebrow movements, knee bending and facial expressions, all of which occur in relation to the musical sound.

Wanderley, J New Music Res, 2005
DSM: Davidson (1993) designed a research study design in which participants were divided/randomized into three groups: they saw a musician performing, or heard the performance without seeing it, or both saw and heard the music. Surprisingly, Davidson found that the movements of musicians actually conveyed expressive intentions more accurately than the sound did. Wanderley (2005) has greatly improved and extended ‘ancillary gesture’ studies with digital photography of soloist musicians playing and quantitative analysis of that imagery, correlating it with surveys of listeners’ perceptions of the emotional content of the performances. To remove bias and insure comparability, Wanderley used digital time-warping, so that the tempi of the different performances to be compared were normalized and kept ‘aligned’ with each other for the statistical correlation analyses . . . Wanderley is now on faculty at McGill.

CMT: Gestures actually extend our sense of phrasing during ligatures, fermatas, pauses between sections, and so on. Though the sound comes to an end at a major transition between musical phrases, the performers’ gestures and postures continue into the silence. As a result, audience members who can see the performers moving perceive the phrase extending beyond the end of the note and into the silence. Likewise, certain gestures precede or anticipate the beginning of the new section or phrase (just as the movement of vocal articulators will begin before a target sound is produced in speech) – a process known as ‘co-articulation’. In that connection, you may like to have a look at Levelt’s 1993 book to see a detailed account of it. The interrelationship between musicians’ movements, musical sound and the observing audience, where movements convey or reinforce the performers’ musical intentions to observers, is clearly very complex. And it often makes big contributions to our understanding the music we’re hearing. An immobile musician won’t communicate as well or as much as one whose gestures are appropriate and accurate.

DSM: And it’s part of why seeing live performances matters. With regard to the nuances of physical ‘ancillary’ gestures, even broadcast imagery or DVD or film can’t convey as much as experiencing live performance. They may have excellent mastering and acoustic properties; they may have excellent cinematography and editing and visual production values; but they’re not adequate substitutes for seeing it for yourself, up close . . . What else? I would say that different performers tend to reproduce the same movements throughout the piece. And even if there’s no structural correlation of movements throughout the piece, there may be some movement patterns that tend to be produced by a player in different circumstances. It’s much the same as the personal and ethnosocial gestural style that each of us exhibits in conversations that have varied content and emotions. I have a certain style and gestural vocabulary that ‘works’ for me, a set of habitual gestures that are culturally conditioned—learned quite early in life, many of them.

CMT: Do the expressive body movements of musicians play a similar role in relation to the musical sound? Of course! Music is analogous to speech in that the sound carries the core ‘content’. But non-verbal gestures also contribute to the emotional sense of an utterance, and they help speakers to time their exchange in a conversation. Same thing in music!

DSM: We can think of different categories of clarinetists’ expressive movements:
  • Material/Physiological, i.e., the influence of respiration, fingering, the ergonomics of the instrument, etc. At each time when performers breathe there’s a tendency to bring down the instrument to a vertical position and soon afterwards start an upwards movement again. This can be partly an ‘instrumental’ gesture, but often it’s predominantly an ‘ancillary’ one—a cue for the listener.
  • Structural, i.e., dependent on the characteristics of the piece being performed. Some performers tend to mark the rhythm with their instrument, as an aid to metrical precision. And, although there are various differences in these movements, there seem to be similarities—a cross-correlation that’s higher than we’d expect by statistical chance alone.
  • Interpretive, i.e., related to the mental model of the piece that the performer has. The mental conception of the arc of the piece will usually be different for different performers, or may often differ for a given performer across the span of her/his career.

CMT: In the case of the same expert clarinet player performing one piece different times, we can reasonably imagine that there’ll be a strong correlation between the player’s movements at the same points in the score in the different performances. This is what Wanderley and other researchers have found. In fact, it suggests a strong relation between what’s being played and how it’s played. With the experimental evidence that’s been published, it can be asserted that ancillary gestures of clarinet players are not produced randomly or just as a visual effect, but that these gestures are an intrinsic part of the musical performance process itself.

DSM: In its first movement, we have in the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas a musical form that begins its development in the tonic. Jack Adrian published a paper several years ago that gave two conventional explanations for sonata forms of this unorthodox type. Adrian says the first explanation is an ‘apparent’ return of the tonic, with a return of the tonic chord at the beginning of the development but not a return of the tonic scale step. He calls the second explanation a ‘real’ return, and it contains a return of the tonic chord and the tonic scale step at the beginning of the development. Adrian says that the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas are examples of ‘real’ returns.

DSM: But Brahms doesn’t stop there! Adrian offers other possible explanations of this unorthodox sonata form movement. The orthodox framework of sonata form is in the background structure and in its interruption at the point of recapitulation.

CMT: In this Brahms sonata, then, we have an initial voice-leading of the fundamental line that’s incomplete—and which ends before the end of the development. The motion is interrupted at the recapitulation by the return of the primary tone, and the Fundamental Structure is carried to its close. Adrian notes that, when the tonic chord as tonic scale step occurs at the beginning of the development, the development begins the motion to the dominant rather than continuing the second subject towards the interruption.

DSM: So the whole development section of Brahms’s Clarinet Sonata is then a deviant, mutant transition to the second subject area. It doesn’t equate the dominant of the second subject area with the dominant at the end of the development—after all, the first motion to the dominant is subsumed by the second . . .

CMT: Though there are these two interruptions, the first motion to the dominant occurs in the middleground, and the one at the end of the development is in the background. With this example of Brahms’s unorthodox sonata form we have a ‘challenge’ to the conventional concept of form. It also shows that concepts and definitions of form are vulnerable and malleable. Jon Manasse’s account is refreshing and brings these challenges to the fore. Not in an abstract, scholarly way—but exciting and juicy!

DSM: And, again Jon Nakamatsu gives us this frisson of sensory over-stimulation; melody, harmony, allusion and quotation shimmer tantalizingly, often just barely out of reach. Immense detail is packed into short time-frames, particularly in the Clarinet Sonatas, but never to the point of confusion – there’s always a clear line projected through and a thoroughgoing stylistic ‘companionship’ evidenced by the two Jons’ playing.

CMT: Here is Jon Manasse’s upcoming schedule:
  • July 11: Strings in the Mountains Music Festival : Steamboat Springs : Brahms: Clarinet Sonata #2, with Jon Nakamatsu, pianist
  • July 14: Strings in the Mountains Music Festival : Steamboat Springs : Weber: Grand Duo Concertant, with Jon Nakamatsu, pianist
  • July 29: Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival : Chatham : Brahms: Clarinet Sonata #2, with Jon Nakamatsu, pianist; Weber: Grand Duo Concertant; Ravel/Hamelin: Pièce en forme de Habanera; Kovács: Hommage à Manuel de Falla
  • August 3: Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival : Wellfleet : Mozart: Clarinet Quintet, with Borromeo String Quartet
  • August 30: The Skaneateles Festival : Beethoven: Clarinet Trio, Op. 11

W hen you are accompanying someone, you are listening to them the way you listen to a Bach Chorale, where several parts are going on at the same time, all of which are gorgeous melodies, all being played simultaneously.”
  — David Amram.




27 June 2007

To Forgetting-Forgiving! : Parker String Quartet and a Citron Cosmopolitan, Garçon!

Parker String Quartet
CMT: The Parker String Quartet makes its recording debut with Bartók’s String Quartets Nos. 2 and 5, on the ZigZag label. The Second Quartet, composed between 1915 and 1917 and premiered on 03 March 1918 in Budapest, appeared ten years after the First Quartet. Had Bartók exhausted his lyricism and Romanticism with the Second Quartet, do you think?

DSM: He would’ve been 34 years old in 1915—how could it be that any part of his compositional imagination and enthusiasm had been exhausted at that stage? The influence of Debussy may have been waning a bit for him, yes. And the psychological effect of World War I should not be underestimated … The requirements and proclivities of the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, who debuted the piece and to whom Bartók dedicated the work, may have entered in as well. And then there was the zeitgeist of atonal/12-tone writing. He was not writing in a vacuum! That, and the fact that he had found his own ‘chops’ by then . . .

CMT: The Fifth Quartet, commissioned in 1935, was a more tonal work again, evocative of—or responsive to—pre-war politics in Europe?

DSM: And the Parker Quartet’s account of the Fifth seems edgy enough and despairing enough to be an effective political communiqué. You know—later this year the Parker Quartet will record the complete string quartets of György Ligeti for Naxos . . .

CMT: What else? Some time ago the Parker String Quartet was selected for the prestigious Professional String Quartet Training Program at the New England Conservatory of Music, where the group was founded. All of the quartet’s members are all pursuing graduate degrees in performance and chamber music at NEC.

DSM: They’re noteworthy, too, for performing in bars and clubs up and down the East Coast. This Fall, the Parkers continue this with a “residency” at Barbès Bar and Performance Space in Brooklyn. Did you see Anne Midgette’s article about this in the New York Times on June 24? Barbès is owned by two French-born musicians, and its back room offers a diverse range of entertainment—from international film nights to authors’ readings to chamber music. Liquid entertainment as well . . .

French 75

  • 3 ounces (100 gm) crushed ice
  • 1 1/2 ounces (50 mL) dry gin
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon (5 gm) confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 ounces (20 cL) chilled champagne
  • 1 twist lemon
Half-fill a 14-ounce collins glass with crushed ice. Add the gin and lemon juice and stir in the sugar. Pour in the champagne.

Aperol 86
  • 2 ounces (60 mL) Aperol
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce (30 mL) lime juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces (45 mL) orange juice
  • 1 twist lemon
Shake ingredients in cocktail shaker. Strain into highball glass.

Dubonnet Negroni
  • 1 1/2 ounces (45 mL) Campari
  • 1 1/2 ounces (45 mL) Dubonnet blanc
  • 1 1/2 ounces (45 mL) gin
  • 1 twist lemon
Stir ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a wine glass and add a lemon twist for garnish.

Citron Cosmopolitan
  • 2 ounces (60 mL) Absolut Citron vodka
  • 1 ounce (30 mL) triple sec
  • 1 ounce (30 mL) cranberry juice
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lime juice
  • 1 twist lemon
Shake Absolut Citron, triple sec, and juices vigorously with ice. Strain and serve in a chilled American martini glass.

CMT: The Parker String Quartet’s upcoming performances—ones without such tasty refreshments as those available at Barbès, unfortunately—include:
  • July 4 : Theatre de Bordeaux : Mozart: String Quartet in G Major, K. 387; Ligeti: String Quartet No. 2 (“Métamorphoses Nocturnes”); Ravel: String Quartet in F Major
  • July 10-12 : Yellow Barn Residency : Amherst, MA and Putney, VT
  • July 19: Caramoor Center for Music and Arts : Katonah : Ligeti: Andante and Allegro; Auerbach: premiere of new music; Smetana: String Quartet in E Minor, No. 1 (“From My Life”)
  • July 27: Radio France : Montpellier : Karol Beffa: new music premiere; Smetana: String Quartet No.1 in E Minor, “From My Life”
  • August 1: Luberon Music Festival : Cabrieres d’Avignon : Haydn: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74 No. 3 (“The Reiter”); Ligeti: String Quartet No. 2; Smetana: String Quartet in E Minor, No. 1 (“From My Life”)
  • August 3: Luberon Music Festival : Roussillon : Haydn: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74 No. 3 (“The Reiter”); Ligeti: String Quartet No. 2; Smetana: String Quartet in E Minor, No. 1 (“From My Life”)
  • August 5: Luberon Music Festival : Abbaye de Silvacane : Haydn: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74 No. 3 (“The Reiter”); Ligeti: String Quartet No. 2; Smetana: String Quartet in E Minor, No. 1 (“From My Life”)
  • August 21-22: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York : Haydn: String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 74 No. 3 (“The Reiter”)
  • September 16: Barbes Bar (‘Residency’), Brooklyn : Ligeti: Three Quartets

Forgiveness/Consolation
DSM: What do Ligeti’s Quartet No.2 (“Metamorphoses Nocturnes”) and Smetana’s Quartet No.1 (“From My Life”) have in common? What contrasts between these pieces could explain their cohesiveness on a program?

CMT: Well, there are lyrical and expressionistic features that in some ways resemble the Bartók quartets—so there’s a cohesiveness in the Parker’s repertoire in that sense. Ligeti’s material provides the performers an opportunity to express a wide range of human emotions—from introspection to rage; from humor to regret; from longing to acceptance. Remember that it was 1944—György Ligeti was just 21 when he composed the String Quartet No. 1 (‘Métamorphoses Nocturnes’) and he was yet to establish his reputation as a bad boy of classical music. He was a Jew, and in 1943 he was forced into labor by the Nazis. His brother was deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp. His parents were sent to Auschwitz. His mother was the only other survivor of the immediate family, besides György. This Métamorphoses Nocturnes quartet is understandably edgy, idealistic, angry, inconsolable, impatient. It’s punkish music with something to prove—it’s a young piece: it remembers everything, and forgives nothing! Why should it forgive? Why should it forget? How could it forget, even if it wanted to!

DSM: But the Smetana, like the Ligeti, is also dealing with metamorphoses—of middle age, of absurd personal loss and grief, of issues of youth coming to terms with the realities and conflicts and limitations of life. This quartet was composed in 1876, when Smetana was 52 years old. When he was 31, his beloved four-year-old daughter, Bedřiska, died. His third child died nine months later, and this is when Smetana committed himself to composition, producing the Piano Trio in G minor. This piece is full of sadness and despair, making use of phrases that are cut short, symbolically parallel to his children’s lives. And, like Beethoven, Smetana’s creativity was haunted by his tinnitus and progressive loss of hearing. His E minor Quartet (“From My Life”) might be considered to be his way of coping with his serial losses. Smetana’s psychological state is varying through this piece—in some places he seems deeply despondent. The fourth movement references his ‘fateful ringing in my ears... which announced the beginning of my cursèd deafness’, with the first violin’s piercing high E over the pianissimo tremolo in the other strings. There is after this some recovery or respite—passages that are positive and peaceful. So I think Smetana found here a resignation to ‘the catastrophe of my complete deafness’—a grudging acceptance, a coping that could not manage to forget or forgive the loss. Charles Griswold’s new book is, I’d say, the latest, greatest treatise on ethics of forgiving and forgetting.

CMT: So Smetana finds a consolation without lasting solace—and Ligeti finds solace that’s not lasting.

DSM: That’s what binds these pieces together, I think. At any rate, that’s some of what I hear in them. Smetana “up,” and Ligeti with a “twist.”

Barbes Bar, 376 9th Street, corner of 6th ave, Brooklyn, NY (Take the “F” train to 7th Avenue. From there, it’s one block ‘downslope’.)
O ne of the lessons of modernity is that there is no consolation in the human condition, unless perhaps it consists in somehow reconciling ourselves to evils so sublimely absurd that at each new moment they test our capacities for acceptance. In such a world, an understanding of forgiveness – the concept of it, the varieties, its human sources and limits – is more central to life than ever before.”
  —  Allen Wood, Stanford University.

Parker Quartet at Barbes Bar, Brooklyn (NYT Photo, Michael Nagle)

Barbes Bar, 376 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY
Long Island Iced Tea
  • 3 ounces (100 gm) ice cubes
  • 2/3 ounces (20 mL) dry gin
  • 2/3 ounces (20 mL) light rum
  • 2/3 ounces (20 mL) white tequila
  • 2/3 ounces (20 mL) triple sec
  • 2/3 ounces (20 mL) vodka
  • 3 ounces (10 cL) sour mix
  • 3 ounces (10 cL) cola
  • 1 dash bitters
  • 1 wedge lemon
Fill Collins glass with ice and add the alcohols. Fill 1/3 with sour mix, and the remainder with cola. Stir gently and top with lemon and bitters.



26 June 2007

New Music, Summer Picaresque

Acoustic Locator Array, New ‘War Tubas’, Japan, Summer 1930
CMT: So I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that John Toole’s classic, Confederacy of Dunces, is unreadable. A friend loved the book, but the very fact that he loved it annoyed me tremendously. The book is so unmitigatedly self-conscious! How could anyone love that book? It’s reassuring to know that you really really didn’t like it, for the same aesthetic reason that I find the book objectionable!

DSM: I think the same phenomenon happens with some musical compositions. They’re excessively self-aware, almost as though the composer thinks the work has to be weird and depressing to be considered serious ‘new music’.

CMT: But then, even with such music, if you live with the music for awhile, it often grows on you. Give it three or four listens. Give it the benefit of the doubt. The bits that, on first impression, seemed contrived or self-referential turn out not to be so calculating or stiff after all. True, the music may never ascend to become popular or “In”, but at least its merits do come into focus with repeated listenings. The composer’s conceits and methods do, when you reflect on the piece, deliver something honest and valid. You just were unable to appreciate it properly on the first hearing.

DSM: Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina and other of his tintinnabulations and iterative compositions were like that for me. But there’s nothing that intrigues me quite as much in music as a fractured analogy, a piece of music that tries to do something emulating another type of art. It is, of course, best if the construction is sound and the performance is convincing and feels ‘right’. But a big part of the fascination of new music for me is the flat-out novelty of the experience—the novelty of discovering for myself whether I like it or understand it. The novelty, if it’s a premier performance, of encountering terra incognita. There’s none of the ‘baggage’ of received wisdom and critical consensus, regarding what the significance and inner workings of the piece may be. The piece is simply a naked fact, something we absorb and react to—both extemporaneously at the time of the live performance, and afterward, usually after a lot of reflection—as you’re saying. That’s always exciting. Seldom comfortable, but always exciting!

CMT: In music and music theater, society only accepts literary Intellectualism if the music is “In,” highly popular and massively acclaimed by the mainstream media. If it’s valued by the broader community, then intellectualizing it is socially acceptable; if it’s not popularly valued, though, then intellectualizing about it out loud as we’re doing is totally unwelcome. In general, musical intellectualism isn’t valued in the U.S.—and it’s especially discouraged when it comes to new music. I don’t understand why intellectualizing about music is treated this way. Painting, sculpture, dance, other of the Arts are at least cut some ‘slack’ by the media and arbiters of public discourse.

T his is about a vacancy in culture, the absence of younger voices, perhaps the absence of a generation. The few—extremely few—intellectuals under the age of thirty-five, even forty-five, have seldom elicited comment. They are easy to miss, especially because their absence is longstanding. An intellectual generation has not suddenly vanished; it simply never appeared. And it is already too late—the generation is too old—to show up.”
  —  Russell Jacoby, 2000.

DSM: But I don’t think of what we’re discussing as a kind of ‘intellectualizing,’ really. We like to identify some reasons that support our opinions, yes. It wouldn’t be meaningful conversation if you couldn’t explain why you think as you do. But, beyond that, I think we have no prejudices as to what the nature and quality of ‘acceptable’ reasons are or should be—regardless whether it’s new music or otherwise. The whole point is to experience the music, preferably ‘live’, and to (re-)experience and enjoy discovering and refining our experience of the music together through conversations about it. That’s still why we do this, right?

CMT: Yes, of course it is. The dialogue’s the thing! Much in the way that chamber music itself wouldn’t be chamber music were it not for the dialogue among the parts, the various voices. But the summer season is upon us, and summer means that performances of ‘new music’ are harder to find than at other times of the year; our dialogue needs to be more actively cultivated, to keep it going. Summer’s the season for chamber music festivals, so there’re a lot of events to attend. But many of the festivals confine their programming to the classical canon. The Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, however, includes new music. The Banff Festival has its Canadian Commission Round, with a new quartet by Kelly-Marie Murphy that each competing ensemble will perform. And the Kuhmo Festival in Finland has considerable new music in its line-up.

DSM: And the Aspen Festival as well. The Ying Quartet will perform Tan Dun’s Eight Colors for String Quartet, Zhou Long’s Song of the Ch’in, and Chen Yi’s Shuo in Aspen on July 28. Emerson String Quartet performed Charles Ives’ String Quartet No. 2 and Kaija Saariaho’s Terra Memoria there last Saturday. The Ottawa Festival has some Saariaho and other new works (Roddy Elias, Evan Ware, Victor Herbiet, Christian Elliot, Kevork Andonian, Evelyn Stroobach, and Jan Järvlepp – Aug 01) in their events this year.

CMT: Tanglewood has their new-music segment, too, from July 29 to August 3. Zwilich’s String Quartet No. 2; Eckhardt’s New work; Sollberger’s Advancing Moment; Harbison’s Abu Ghraib for Cello; Corigliano’s Troubadours – Variations for guitar and chamber orchestra; and Alvin Curran and others with Musica Electronica Viva on August 3.

DSM: I’m not sure I can be enthused to hear something entitled ‘Abu Ghraib for Cello’. That suggests to me something about as self-conscious as your John Toole book, Confederacy of Dunces. But Alvin Curran’s work, including his collection of solo piano pieces called Inner Cities, will be performed in Italy at the Santarcangelo International Festival of the Arts. That is both topical and honest and elegant. Daan Vandewalle will perform Curran’s Inner Cities No.13 on July 12 and 13. And Pierre-Yves Macé’s musique concrète piece, Passagenwerk, will be performed there on July 6.

CMT: How about MicroFest? MicroFest this summer has a program of Harry Partch’s music, performed on original Partch instruments, at California Plaza in L.A. If you like microtonality, this event is not to be missed.

DSM: You know, not all of Boulez’s music is ‘new’ in terms of its compositional techniques, neither is Terry Riley’s, nor Elliot Carter’s, say. And aleatoric music, “music of chance”, may transform the composer/performer relationship—but that isn’t inherently ‘new’ either, even though the improvisational aspect of it may be ‘new-as-of-this-minute’. Microtonal compositions likewise are not inherently ‘new’, even though microtonality may be far from conventional.

CMT: Okay! Eclectic and unconventional as our “newish” tastes may be, we’re not alone! So what new music do you want to go and hear? What rolicking musical adventures do you crave? When and where?

I n contemporary popular parlance, the attribution ‘picaresque’ refers to any rolicking adventure that delivers the travels and travails of a central character as he or she careens along the narrative way. ... To contend that a new ‘American picaresque’ has emerged ... is not only to call for an eclectic yet responsible use of the designation ‘picaresque’ but to propose an extended continuity in formal literary terms with other [narrative and dialogical] configurations that had their quite distinctive origins in other lands in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. ... The picaresque [genre] [ —like new music— ] changes masks, shifts, dodges, proves resilient, survives … [despite the apparent lack of visible means of support!]”
  —  Rowland Sherrill, Road-Book America, 2005.